Circuses have a long, disturbing history of exploiting people and animals, including two albino slaves. Here’s their story.
George and Willie Muse were brothers from Truevine, Virginia. They spent their days working tobacco fields, often in the sweltering heat while covered in rags to protect their white skin. Since their mother Harriett was poor, she often gave them tobacco leaves to chew on.
The natural appetite suppressant was no match for a well-dressed white man with candy, though.
After luring the brothers away on a hot day in 1889, when they were just six and nine years old, Robert Stokes forced them to become sideshow entertainment in his circus. Nobody knows how he discovered them, but he saw money in their African facial features and white skin.
— Beth Macy (@papergirlmacy) February 7, 2017
Not human beings worthy of respect.
When they didn’t come home that night, their mother began her own search. Not with law enforcement, though. They didn’t care about two missing slaves.
When Harriett heard about a white man wandering about in their area, she put two and two together. It was common for bounty hunters to look for new sideshow acts. With nearly 100 traveling circuses at the time, the chances of her finding them were slim to none.
It didn’t deter her from trying, though.
— Beth Macy (@papergirlmacy) February 8, 2017
The Muse brothers were on call day and night. Once their owner got enough people into the odditorium, which was the tent all of the sideshow ‘freaks’ performed in, they were put to work.
During the first few years, Willie and George just stood there for people to gawk at. Eventually they sung and often performed It’s A Long Way to Tipperary, which is a war song. Willie and George sang the song to themselves in private, too.
Just like World War I soldiers, they too longed to go home.
They were given names to make them appear exotic, such as the Sheep-Headed Cannibals and Darwin’s Missing Links. The sheep reference was for their hair, which they were forced to grow out quite long.
The Muse Brothers, two AA boys who were stolen from their mother and tricked into becoming circus acts, mother spent 28 years searching 4 em pic.twitter.com/ZG2278MMLu
— two (@_theTARYN) October 20, 2016
As if being forced to perform for strangers day and night wasn’t enough, they had to do chores just to earn a small amount of money. As they slowly lost their eyesight from their albinism, they were forced to rely on their abusers.
Harriett never stopped looking for them and after almost three decades, she finally had her chance.
In 1927, the brothers found themselves working for the Ringling Brothers in Roanoke, Virginia. Harriett heard about a pair of albino brothers performing about thirty miles away and decided it was time to bring them home.
Even though there were no signs, she knew that circuses were only for whites. In fact, she stood a good chance of being lynched by the Ku Klux Klan if she showed up.
Harriett made her way to the back of the crowds, determined to bring her sons home. About halfway through It’s A Long Way to Tipperary, George yelled:
“Look! There’s our dear old mother. Look Willie, she’s not dead.”
Eight policeman surrounded her as people began to gasp. After being reminded of how powerful the Ringlings were, Harriett said:
“They are MY children! Can’t no white man birth two coloured children.”
The police said they were free to leave.
— Beth Macy (@papergirlmacy) February 9, 2015
The Muse brothers didn’t stay with their mother for too long, though. Their stepfather charged people money to come and look at them, not to mention it was cramped in the small cabin. So they voluntarily went back to the circus life.
On their terms.
They continued to perform until the Sixties while receiving money, then retired and bought a home together in Roanoke. Harriett passed away in 1942. While George died in 1972, Willie lived until 2001.
He passed away at 108 surrounded by toys he’d collected throughout the years. It was his way of having the childhood that he was robbed of.
Watch this video to learn more about these brothers.
H/T: Daily Mail
Feature Image Source: Screenshot Via Twitter.